Please Pick My Book by Its Cover – The Perils of Indie Authorship

It’s been a while since I posted on the site, so I figured I’d share a recent piece I wrote for Advanced Literate as a companion to my interview.  Hope you enjoy!

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Please Pick My Book by Its Cover – Ashton Macaualy

Being an independent author is simultaneously one of the easiest and hardest things I’ve ever done. The easy part? All you need to do is write a few words, slap your name on them, and BOOM, you’re an Indie Author. Congratulations. The hard part? Getting people to read those words, or better yet, getting someone else to pay to publish them. The harder part? Finding people to buy those books once you’ve wrangled a publisher and have your cover on the digital shelf. It’s a never-ending cycle; one that I’ve been heavily engaged with for about four years now. So, if you’re new to the scene, struggling to get your work out there, or just tired of the infinite shameless self-promotion loop on social media, strap in and let’s talk about it.

It was four years ago when I started to think of myself as a hot-shit writer with a manuscript that could sell. I had just moved to Seattle and was, as a lot of writers are, jobless. Those long days in my 400 square foot apartment were spent watching Seinfeld, applying for jobs, and submitting everything I had ever written to anyone who would pay a few bucks on Craig’s List. Sure, I submitted to a few of the big publishers as well, but its four years later and I’ve never heard a word from any of them. Want ads aren’t what a lot of people would call the traditional route to getting published, but it worked.

About two months into this rinse and repeat cycle of applications and submissions, two equally incredible things happened. The first is that I got a job working as a contractor at Xbox; pretty sweet, a dream gig for me. The second is that out of the hundred or so submissions of my work to various entities, I received two responses. Both were similar, offering to buy one of my short stories for a twenty-five-dollar flat fee. The first, I accepted immediately, jumping at the chance to have anything published. The second I rejected, hoping to hold out on that story for later (recently published in Aberrant Tales).

After selling that first story, I didn’t hear back from the publisher for almost six months. I continued to write every morning before going to my 9-5, but interestingly, the publication hadn’t been a life-changing experience. That changed the day a brown bubble envelope arrived on my doorstep. I opened it up and to my surprise, I had become a published author. The feeling of holding that red-covered Aberrant Literature Short Fiction Collection – Volume 3 and seeing my name on the author list was unlike anything I had ever experienced. That’s how I met my now publisher, Aberrant Literature, and the man behind it, Jason Peters. That collection spurred our writing/editing/promoting partnership that’s been going strong ever since, but none of it would have happened if I had been above submitting my work on Craig’s List.

That’s the thing about writing: no one should be above anything. If your goal is anything other than getting as many people as possible to enjoy your work, I hate to say it but you’re in the wrong business. I put a lot of time and effort into getting my first short story published, and there was a lot of rejection along the way, but holding it in my hand made me happy because it meant someone had liked reading it enough to print it.

Fast forward three or so years, (time has a funny way of slipping by when you spend it with your imagination behind a keyboard), and my first novel has been out for about nine months. Jason and I worked tirelessly on that manuscript for a solid two years before it ever saw the light of day, and yes, even after it came out, I still needed to keep my day job. The work only intensified after the book came out because getting readers takes effort – not just some of the time, but every day.

Since May of last year, we’ve tried just about everything to promote Whiteout, and it hasn’t been easy. As it turns out, getting people to pick up a paperback from an author they don’t know is pretty damn difficult. I’ve tried just about everything: In-person events, hiding books in airports/supermarkets, tweeting relentlessly into the echo chamber that is #WritingCommunity (it feels good, but doesn’t move copies), paid promotion, and many more. At the end of the day, the best luck I’ve had has been at those in-person events, or interviews like this one for Advanced Literate. The most effective way to get someone to pick up your book is to engage with them on a personal level and convince them it’s worth their time.

I know, getting in-person gigs isn’t easy, but like this whole crazy profession, it requires persistence. I’ve walked into around fifteen bookstores to ask about opportunities to sell my work and sign copies. Of those fifteen, two of them were nice enough to let me come to Indie Author Nights and talk. Those experiences were some of the best I’ve had as an author. I interacted with others in the community – some of whom I still talk to, some of whom I avoid with a ten-foot digital pole – but more importantly, it gave me experience. Seeing your readers in person shows you how they react when you communicate certain aspects of your work and teaches you what delights them. I’ve carried those lessons over to my digital interactions, and while we’re not selling hundreds of copies a month, sales aren’t stagnant either.

Alright, this was a lot of words about the process, and you might be feeling discouraged. However, while it sounds like a slog, there’s one thing I haven’t mentioned: I’ve loved just about every minute of it. Sure, there have been nights where my eyes are burning red from staring at the screen too long and every word I type feels like the work of a fifth grader, but when I shut off the computer, I’m happy. Writing is one of the few things in this world that makes sense to me, and any opportunity I have to do it fills my spiritual tank (sounds gross when I say it out loud). No matter how many books I sell or copies I sign, I’m still going to get up two hours before I need to be at work every morning and write. So, if you love the craft as much as I do, stop reading this blog post, open up your manuscript you’re procrastinating on, and get to it.

Whiteout Prologue

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What follows is the prologue to my first novel, Whiteout, now available for purchase on Amazon as well as other online retailers! If you like what you read, order a copy on Kindle, Paperback, or Hardback, and add us on GoodReads! Every share, add, and pre-order helps us get this story out there. Thanks for your support, enjoy.


Whiteout

“So you want to know about the yeti?” said Nick, savoring the look of surprise on the man’s face.

“Yes,” answered Winston, the portly man sitting opposite him. Clearly he thought there was going to be some sort of conversational foreplay before they came to that topic. Nick had never been one for small talk, and in the years since he had been back, the yeti seemed to be the only thing that interested people anymore. It also garnered the unexpected perk of free drinks, which he didn’t mind.

“And why exactly is that?” Nick asked.

“The subject is fascinating,” Winston breathed excitedly. “From the moment I first heard the rumors, I knew that I would have to get the real story from the source.” He leaned forward expectantly, causing the buttons of his freshly pressed shirt to strain from the size of his girth.

Nick Ventner thought Winston looked more prepared to attend the opera than swap stories with a monster hunter. With his neatly trimmed moustache and patiently combed-over white hair, Nick doubted that he had so much as encountered a gremlin, let alone anything of substance.

Just what exactly do you want with a yeti anyway? There’s nothing to be gained on that mountain apart from frostbite and blood.

Nick’s concentration was broken by the appearance of an austere butler carrying a tray with a cup of steaming tea. Winston thanked the man and took the cup. Before Nick had time to ask for anything, the butler slipped away.

“Sprightly man, isn’t he?”

“Yes, quite,” mused Winston, taking a sip of his tea.

“Don’t suppose he does drinks?” Nick raised his eyebrows hopefully.

“Oh, yes, of course he does.”

Silence fell as Nick waited for an offer that never came. He grimaced at the hideous odor wafting from Winston’s tea. Smells like llama piss and probably cost more than he paid to find me.

Winston watched Nick intently, like a toad hunting a juicy fly. “Well, then, will you tell me the story?”

“It’s a long and ugly one …” Nick looked around for the butler, who remained absent.

“Yes, of course. So you’ll tell it?” Winston’s eyes looked eager, like a child expecting to receive sweets.

“Are you a climber?” Nick asked, moving the subject away from the yeti. “I saw a few pieces of climbing gear on the way in.”

“Well, I dabble, but never anything …”

Nick stopped listening. You look like you have trouble climbing out of bed, much less anything that even closely resembles a mountain. I bet you’ve never even been above 15,000 feet outside of an airplane. Nick found himself staring at Winston’s gut once more, wondering how long it would be before his shirt gave way like a bursting dam. The thought caused him to shudder.

Winston continued to talk despite the glazed look in Nick’s eyes. “But Kilimanjaro really isn’t that difficult if you’ve got the proper guide.”

The conversation settled once more into awkward silence as the man waited for Nick to respond. “Oh, yes, and you must watch out for the hominids up there as well; quite dangerous when they get into a pack.” Nick allowed his mind to drift to the many decorations plastered on the walls.

Every inch of the mansion they sat in agitated Nick in some way. The armchairs were too plush, artifacts from different cultures were spread around the room in a fashion that had no discernable pattern, and above all, the man was lazy, circuitous, and rich. Even the winding lane leading up to the ornate doors had been adorned with artifacts so culturally at odds with the place that Nick thought they were more apt to start a holy war than be considered tasteful. In a different time, Nick might have idolized his wealth, but recently he had been searching for more in life.

“Well, the hominids didn’t really trouble us much—”

Nick grew frustrated with the lack of proffered drink and cut him off. “Look, I don’t have time for this. I was told that you were interested in hiring me, but if the yeti story is all you want, then I’m out of here.” Nick stood up from his chair and turned to go.

There’s just no room for respectable monster hunters anymore. They all just want the spectacle.

“I can pay you,” said Winston, stopping Nick in his tracks.

Nick may not have wanted to be rich, but his pockets were a tad light, trending toward empty, and the pub around the corner was not cheap. He looked back at the man’s face. A wave of familiarity struck him, but just as quickly as it appeared, it vanished.

“Five thousand for the story,” said Winston, “beginning to end. I won’t publish it, I won’t record it. I just want to hear it.” The man sat back in his chair, hands folded across his lap. An expression of victory quickly spread across his smug face.

“Five thousand for a story? You must be some kind of bored.” Nick lowered himself back into the chair.

“I’ve heard the tale secondhand so many times that it seems foolish not to hear it from the man himself. I have complex interests, Mr. Ventner, and you have piqued them.”

Complex interests? Complex carbs, maybe. Your interests are provincial at best. The only real complexity Nick could see about the man was the series of bands that miraculously kept his clothes attached to his body. A little spectacle never hurt anyone. Ah, he would have wanted it anyway. Fortune and glory, remember?

“Well, your money has piqued my interests, but there’s one final condition.”

“What is that?” Winston asked eagerly.

“I’m going to need that drink.”


 

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Next Chapter

Whiteout Chapter 1

Werewolves Don’t Howl

We should have brought matches. The thought rang through Nick’s head clear as a bell, even after everything else had become a frozen blur. James sat beside him, panting on a rock. His boyish hair was slick with sweat and his parka was crusted with a fresh coat of frost. Should have brought matches and should have left the kid behind. Nick had never liked partners; more often than not, they would just slow him down or haunt him in between benders with memories of their death.

Six months prior, Nick had run into an eager undergrad who had drunkenly spouted off about cryptozoology. A few silver bullets and a modicum of training later, James had become his apprentice. Nick was still amazed that even after seeing the uglier side of the world, James managed to fight off the cynicism of it well. Despite being half-frozen in a blizzard, and likely five minutes away from a horrible fate uncomfortably similar to becoming a popsicle, James managed to keep a positive, albeit sarcastic, attitude.

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

“Hold on, where were you?” Winston asked, taking a sip of his tea.

Nick, on the other hand was swilling ice around the bottom of his empty glass, wondering when the butler would be by to bring refills. “If you would wait a minute, I’ll tell you,” Nick said with slight irritation. “I’ve got plenty of other jobs that don’t involve me re-hashing painful emotional memories to old men in their parlors.” This was untrue. Even after the encounter with the yeti, very few letters had come through asking for help. While most people in the monster hunting community had heard tell of the story, they also did not believe it.

“Of course, I am so very sorry.” Winston’s words rang false, but were accompanied by the sudden reappearance of a fresh drink on the table next to Nick.

Nick looked to the glass, astonished. “How does he manage that? Let me guess, he used to be a ninja, got tired of the bloodshed and turned to butlery?” Nick took a sip of the fresh glass at his side and nearly gagged on some of the worst whisky he had ever tasted. All the money in the world, and he still drinks this piss?

“Oh yes, he’s quite good,” said Winston, avoiding the question. Nick must have made a sour face at the drink, because Winston waved his hands apologetically. “My apologies for the drink. I like to start at the bottom and work my way up.” He let out a hearty laugh. “Tastes much better in tea,” he said, continuing to laugh.

Nick laughed in spite of his suspicions about the magical butler. “An efficient drinker even amidst opulence, now that I can respect.”

Winston raised his cup, and drained it. “One picks up a few tricks on their way to wealth.” His cheeks flushed a bit with the fresh drink, and he even seemed a little friendlier. “Now, I’m terribly sorry to have interrupted you. Please, continue.”

Winston’s attitude had changed significantly, and it set Nick on edge. Fortunately, the feeling did not last long as the whiskey quickly made its way into his core, warming him from the inside. All traces of misgiving were temporarily erased from his mind. “Yes, where was I?” He drained the highball glass and set it down on the table, loudly, hoping the butler would hear.

After pausing a moment and seeing no sign of him, he continued on. “We had been tracking a werewolf through the mountains for days. Supposed to be a quick job. Silver bullet, bring back the head, in and out; simple as that. But there was one big problem. The villagers lied to us; it wasn’t a damned werewolf.”

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

At midnight, the howling started. Nick and James had made camp in a small cave tucked into the side of the mountain. At that altitude, with the cold wind whipping through their bones, the world grew fuzzy around the edges. For the first few minutes, neither of them were sure they had actually heard howling at all. They simply sat by the glow of the flashlight, hoping that it wasn’t the day they would be sent to meet the gods that their profession so strongly opposed.

“Is that it?” James asked from the corner of the cave. Though he tried to hide it, his body shivered violently and his lips had turned slightly blue, drying out around the edges.

Should have brought matches. We could have burned our clothes. Anything to stave off this damned cold. Matches were dead useful; they started fires, created distractions, and lit his cigarettes. Unfortunately, he had stopped bringing them to avoid the continuation of his “nasty habit” (the words spoken by one of many ex-girlfriends).  Without the heat from a fire, thinking was impossible. The cold took up every ounce of Nick’s mental capacity, rendering his mind useless.

Upon their departure, it had been a beautiful, sunny day without a cloud in the sky. The unfortunate thing about the mountains was that it only took a moment or two for things to quickly turn sideways. What had been a distant glimmer of fog atop the mighty mountain had turned into a full blown blizzard in less than an hour.

After a few moments of silent processing, a thought broke through the icy curtain around Nick’s mind. James’s question had revealed the true nature of their predicament. “Werewolves don’t howl.” Movies and TV might portray it otherwise, but in the wild, it never happens. Werewolves are apex predators and lone hunters. There’s no need for them to communicate. They don’t reproduce, they don’t have families; they just hunt. When they want to create more werewolves, they go and bite another villager. It’s almost elegant in its simplicity.

“Werewolves don’t howl.” The statement floated through the air lazily, allowing both Nick and James to get a better look at it. Nick glanced over at James, hunkered against the side of the cave wall, and cursed himself again for forgetting the matches. Filthy habit it may be, but I’m never leaving without them again. Had it been the day trip Nick had been billed for, it wouldn’t have been a problem, but when clients flat-out lied, things tended to get a bit dicey.

“We’re not hunting a werewolf, are we?” James mumbled from deep within his parka.

Nick wished they were. Werewolves were so easy to track; big feet, lots of fur, and a swath of blood laid out behind them. “Not anymore,” he said, and was drowned out by another ear-splitting howl. It was long and mournful, shaking the walls of the cave with its intensity. Nick’s already chilled blood dropped a full degree cooler as the howl trailed off.

The animals that could have made such a noise were few. Nick pulled out a leather-bound tome from his satchel, bearing the scratches and scrapes of every journey he had ever been on. An old friend had given it to him as he was just starting up, and Nick never left without it.

Mostly, it was filled with crude drawings of various hell-bound creatures that the author had tried to seduce (he had been a bit of a drunk, and a lecher, and coke-addled, but a damned good hunter when it came down to it). Nick flipped through the pages, hoping that somewhere between poetry about the dismembered head of a warg and amateur comic strips detailing the mating habits of Romanian banshees, there would be useful information.

The sound came again; like a wolf, only longer, lower, and far louder. To be heard over the fury of a snowstorm was no easy feat. Even in the cave, they could hear the roaring of the wind outside battering the mountain in nature’s best attempt to bring it down. He continued to shuffle through the book until he happened upon the page he was looking for. Most people at the time thought that the upper slopes of the Himalayas were barren and uninhabited. Most people were wrong.

Whiteout – May Progress

May is about halfway over, and I continue to grow closer and closer to the end of my first full re-write of Whiteout. The end word count has continued to stretch (currently estimated at 85,000), but nonetheless, June is actually starting to seem doable. That’s right, come June, you might actually see some content that isn’t related to a drunken monster hunter and a fictional mountain somewhere in the Himalayas!

So, where do I stand on progress right now? As we all know, the best way to look at data is through histograms, and trendlines (it’s not, but it’s easy, and I’m busy).

May

Every day this month, except for the pesky 7th, I have made some progress on Whiteout! Some days less than others, but the point is, it’s moving forward (I can’t help that Injustice 2 released yesterday…) The trickiest part this month has been fleshing out a denouement that was previously nonexistent. I wrote the original draft of this novel for NanoWriMo (a competition where you write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days), and by the time I had reached this point in the book, I was almost at my word count. Unfortunately, this led to some poor narrative choices, such as “And then suddenly they were back at the yeti’s cave”, which meant the original narrative had to be fleshed out.

Griping aside, I think the ending is coming along nicely, and I will continue to share updates as I go along. Thanks for reading, if you like my work, subscribe, like, leave a hateful comment, or find another way to feed the social media beast (it hungers).

–Mac

Whiteout – Chapter 1

Whiteout_Logo1

Werewolves Don’t Howl

We should have brought matches. The thought rang through Nick’s head clear as a bell, even after everything else had become a frozen blur. James sat beside him, panting on a rock. His boyish hair was slick with sweat and his parka was crusted with a fresh coat of frost. Should have brought matches and should have left the kid behind. Nick had never liked partners; more often than not, they would just slow him down or haunt him in between benders with memories of their death.

Six months prior, Nick had run into an eager undergrad who had drunkenly spouted off about cryptozoology. A few silver bullets and a modicum of training later, James had become his apprentice. Nick was still amazed that even after seeing the uglier side of the world, James managed to fight off the cynicism of it well. Despite being half-frozen in a blizzard, and likely five minutes away from a horrible fate uncomfortably similar to becoming a popsicle, James managed to keep a positive, albeit sarcastic, attitude.

——————————————————————————————–

     “Hold on, where were you?” Winston asked, taking a sip of his tea.

Nick, on the other hand was swilling ice around the bottom of his empty glass, wondering when the butler would be by to bring refills. “If you would wait a minute, I’ll tell you,” Nick said with slight irritation. “I’ve got plenty of other jobs that don’t involve me re-hashing painful emotional memories to old men in their parlors.” This was untrue. Even after the encounter with the yeti, very few letters had come through asking for help. While most people in the monster hunting community had heard tell of the story, they also did not believe it.

“Of course, I am so very sorry.” Winston’s words rang false, but were accompanied by the sudden reappearance of a fresh drink on the table next to Nick.

Nick looked to the glass, astonished. “How does he manage that? Let me guess, he used to be a ninja, got tired of the bloodshed and turned to butlery?” Nick took a sip of the fresh glass at his side and nearly gagged on some of the worst whisky he had ever tasted. All the money in the world, and he still drinks this piss?

“Oh yes, he’s quite good,” said Winston, avoiding the question. Nick must have made a sour face at the drink, because Winston waved his hands apologetically. “My apologies for the drink. I like to start at the bottom and work my way up.” He let out a hearty laugh. “Tastes much better in tea,” he said, continuing to laugh.

Nick laughed in spite of his suspicions about the magical butler. “An efficient drinker even amidst opulence, now that I can respect.”

Winston raised his cup, and drained it. “One picks up a few tricks on their way to wealth.” His cheeks flushed a bit with the fresh drink, and he even seemed a little friendlier. “Now, I’m terribly sorry to have interrupted you. Please, continue.”

Winston’s attitude had changed significantly, and it set Nick on edge. Fortunately, the feeling did not last long as the whiskey quickly made its way into his core, warming him from the inside. All traces of misgiving were temporarily erased from his mind. “Yes, where was I?” He drained the highball glass and set it down on the table, loudly, hoping the butler would hear.

After pausing a moment and seeing no sign of him, he continued on. “We had been tracking a werewolf through the mountains for days. Supposed to be a quick job. Silver bullet, bring back the head, in and out; simple as that. But there was one big problem. The villagers lied to us; it wasn’t a damned werewolf.”

——————————————————————————————–

     At midnight, the howling started. Nick and James had made camp in a small cave tucked into the side of the mountain. At that altitude, with the cold wind whipping through their bones, the world grew fuzzy around the edges. For the first few minutes, neither of them were sure they had actually heard howling at all. They simply sat by the glow of the flashlight, hoping that it wasn’t the day they would be sent to meet the gods that their profession so strongly opposed.

“Is that it?” James asked from the corner of the cave. Though he tried to hide it, his body shivered violently and his lips had turned slightly blue, drying out around the edges.

Should have brought matches. We could have burned our clothes. Anything to stave off this damned cold. Matches were dead useful; they started fires, created distractions, and lit his cigarettes. Unfortunately, he had stopped bringing them to avoid the continuation of his “nasty habit” (the words spoken by one of many ex-girlfriends).  Without the heat from a fire, thinking was impossible. The cold took up every ounce of Nick’s mental capacity, rendering his mind useless.

Upon their departure, it had been a beautiful, sunny day without a cloud in the sky. The unfortunate thing about the mountains was that it only took a moment or two for things to quickly turn sideways. What had been a distant glimmer of fog atop the mighty mountain had turned into a full blown blizzard in less than an hour.

After a few moments of silent processing, a thought broke through the icy curtain around Nick’s mind. James’s question had revealed the true nature of their predicament. “Werewolves don’t howl.” Movies and TV might portray it otherwise, but in the wild, it never happens. Werewolves are apex predators and lone hunters. There’s no need for them to communicate. They don’t reproduce, they don’t have families; they just hunt. When they want to create more werewolves, they go and bite another villager. It’s almost elegant in its simplicity.

“Werewolves don’t howl.” The statement floated through the air lazily, allowing both Nick and James to get a better look at it. Nick glanced over at James, hunkered against the side of the cave wall, and cursed himself again for forgetting the matches. Filthy habit it may be, but I’m never leaving without them again. Had it been the day trip Nick had been billed for, it wouldn’t have been a problem, but when clients flat-out lied, things tended to get a bit dicey.

“We’re not hunting a werewolf, are we?” James mumbled from deep within his parka.

Nick wished they were. Werewolves were so easy to track; big feet, lots of fur, and a swath of blood laid out behind them. “Not anymore,” he said, and was drowned out by another ear-splitting howl. It was long and mournful, shaking the walls of the cave with its intensity. Nick’s already chilled blood dropped a full degree cooler as the howl trailed off.

The animals that could have made such a noise were few. Nick pulled out a leather-bound tome from his satchel, bearing the scratches and scrapes of every journey he had ever been on. An old friend had given it to him as he was just starting up, and Nick never left without it.

Mostly, it was filled with crude drawings of various hell-bound creatures that the author had tried to seduce (he had been a bit of a drunk, and a lecher, and coke-addled, but a damned good hunter when it came down to it). Nick flipped through the pages, hoping that somewhere between poetry about the dismembered head of a warg and amateur comic strips detailing the mating habits of Romanian banshees, there would be useful information.

The sound came again; like a wolf, only longer, lower, and far louder. To be heard over the fury of a snowstorm was no easy feat. Even in the cave, they could hear the roaring of the wind outside battering the mountain in nature’s best attempt to bring it down. He continued to shuffle through the book until he happened upon the page he was looking for. Most people at the time thought that the upper slopes of the Himalayas were barren and uninhabited. Most people were wrong.